Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis: Following the surge in domestic violence incidents within the past few weeks, the Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Terrance Drew convened an inter-ministerial meeting to discuss existing institutional challenges and potential legislative amendments to improve the prevention and detection of such incidents.
Present at the meeting were senior officers in the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs: Permanent Secretary (PS) Mrs. Janelle Lewis-Tafari, Director of Gender Affairs Mr. Virgil Jeffers and Senior Gender Officer Mrs. Shinelle Charles; Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Andre Mitchell; the Attorney-General Hon. Garth Wilkin; and PS in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ms. Naeemah Hazelle.
The Prime Minister expressed his thoughts on the recent increase in domestic violence incidents, outlining his empathy to the victims.
“Domestic violence is a major cause for concern. It is not an issue specific to any particular
country or place. Domestic violence is a silent epidemic and one of the leading causes for
injury to women. It is critical that we address, sensitize, and educate our people on domestic violence because it affects the entire family structure. What happened in Sandy Point last month with the young lady that resulted in the death of the young man and the recent incident in Nevis that resulted in the death of two persons and the injury of another is heartbreaking. Rectifying the issues and challenges within the system is a major priority item on our legislative and administrative agendas.”
There have been several domestic abuse cases over the past years. However, PS Janelle Lewis-Tafari stated that it is difficult to conduct an accurate assessment of domestic violence within the Federation because not all cases are reported. According to PS Lewis-Tafari we had 20 reported cases in 2018; 18 in 2019; 12 in 2020; 23 in 2021; and 27 in 2022.
Several key initiatives were discussed during the meeting that could help to immediately tackle the issue of domestic violence within the Federation, including amendments to the Domestic Violence Act to speed up the restraining order process.
Attorney-General Hon. Garth Wilkin suggested ways the Government can improve the legislative domestic violence framework.
“The Cabinet, as the leader of the Executive Arm of Government, intends to quickly propose to Parliament that the unnecessary and expensive hurdles in the Domestic Violence Act that restrict or discourage women from seeking restraining orders against violent men (and vice versa) must be removed… Every woman (or man) who is the victim of domestic violence in its various forms should have easy and open access to justice and protection.”
PS Janelle Lewis-Tafari expressed gratitude to the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General for requesting the meeting and described the discussion as “fruitful and frank”.
“The Department of Gender Affairs appreciates the support and interest shown by the Hon.
Prime Minister and the Attorney-General with regards to domestic abuse and the wellbeing
and safety of all citizens. The fruitful and frank discussions concluded with decisions being
made for a review of the current Domestic Violence Act to ensure easier access to justice by victims of abuse, the strengthening of the Department of Gender Affairs through increased personnel, and the building of strategic partnerships between social protection agencies under the remit of the Hon. Deputy Prime Minister to ensure comprehensive support to victims and survivors of abuse and the development of a multifaceted public awareness campaign on gender based violence. Increased support for faith-based organizations and nongovernmental organizations providing shelter services, and the inclusion of training modules on gender affairs at the police training school and other training institutions will also be given priority in the new year.”
The Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs shared a few safety planning measures for victims of domestic violence. Persons are asked to:
1. Know your abuser’s red flags
2. Identify safe areas of the house
3. Establish a code word with friends and family members
4. Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice
5. Make and memorize a list of emergency contacts
6. Be kind to yourself
7. Call from a friend or neighbour’s phone
8. Get a second cell phone
9. Change your usernames and passwords
10. Contact a domestic violence or sexual assault programme in your area
The emergency contact numbers within the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs are as follows:
Counselling Unit – 465-5000
Social Assistance – 467-2675
Legal Aid Department – 467-1572
Probation and Child Protection Services – 662-6833